Since its inception, Altos Las Hormigas has been one of the hottest boutique wineries in Argentina. Situated in the midst of the mighty Mendoza, the Altos estate is located at an altitude of 2,500 feet, which puts it high into the foothills of the towering Andes, as the estate's name implies. Altos is unique among Argentine wineries. First, it specializes in the cultivation and production of just one grape varietal. In fact, this winery produces only one kind of wine – outstanding Malbec. Presently, the 475-acre Altos estate has 75 acres of vines under cultivation, all of which are devoted to Malbec.
Formerly known as Altos de Mediano when it released its debut vintage in 1997, Las Hormigas changed its name in 1999. This modification paved the way for the estate to use very old vines of Malbec from outside of the immediate geographic area of the property, which is solely within the Medrano region of Mendoza. Now under the ownership and direction of Marco de Grazia, whose portfolio of great Italian estates is second to none, Altos Las Hormigas produces sensational Malbec from selected old vines.
Indeed, if there is a single great varietal in Argentina, it is Malbec. Malbec is a French red wine grape in origin that made its way to Argentina from Bordeaux well over a century ago, before the phylloxera scourge devastated the vineyards of Europe. In Bordeaux, where it is often referred to as Cot or Pressac, it still plays an important, but now subordinate role, alongside of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However, around Cahors in Southwest France, Malbec remains the major player, accounting for the traditional, full-flavored "black wine" of Cahors. It is with this excellent, dark colored Cahors-style Malbec in mind that Altos Las Hormigas excels, transforming Malbec's great color, flavor and tannin into tasteful velvet.
Argentina: Where Quality and Quantity Abound
Argentina has long been one of the world's leading producers and consumers of wine. Presently, this sprawling nation, which contains some of the world's most diverse geography: tropical jungle, barren desert, towering snow-capped mountains and windswept deserted islands that herald Antarctica, is the world's fifth largest producer of wine and the planet's third largest consumer of the fruit of the vine, placing it just behind Italy and France. As an interesting comparison, Argentina consumes more than five times the amount of wine per capita as does the United States, (10.5 gallons per capita in Argentina versus just 2.00 gallons per head in the United States). Moreover, Argentina is no longer just a source of good, plentiful, every day plonk; it is increasingly a treasure chest of world-class wines.
Although Argentina has cultivated the vine since the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries in the 16th century, the modern tale of wine in Argentina really begins with the Italian migration of the late 19th century. Sparked by political strife and economic stagnation in their homeland, many Italian growers and winemakers headed for Argentina. Settling in the dry, rain-starved Mendoza at the base of the Andes Mountains, these Italian immigrants began to sluice the snow waters from the mountains onto their vineyards, causing the desert to bloom. In less than a century, the Mendoza, a state approximately the size of Illinois, has become Argentina's leading wine-producing region, accounting for the vast majority of the nation's wine production and more than half of all the wine made in South America.
Driven by Argentina's seemingly insatiable thirst for wine, as well as the burgeoning worldwide demand for fine wine, especially well-made reds, the "Mighty Mendoza" now comprises some 700,000 acres of vines, and is still growing. The vast majority of wine from the arid, nearly insect-free environment of Mendoza is red, and happily the quality of these wines continues to grow exponentially. The recent attention to quality is much to the delight of savvy North American consumers, who are now gobbling up the wine wares of Argentina at an ever-increasing rate.
Since the early 1980's, an infusion of international talent has transformed the Mendoza. With the likes of Paul Hobbs, Jacques and Francois Lurton and more recently Marco de Grazia, Argentina and the "Mighty Mendoza" are finally coming into their own. This once sleeping giant now houses a treasure trove of fine wines, with the wonders of Malbec in the vanguard. Excellent Cabernet Sauvignon is also being fashioned here; and in recent years, Argentina has made great strides in the production of white wines, too, most notably with Chardonnay and Torrontes, an Argentine specialty. Viva Argentina!